Last week, Donate Life Illinois announced that lung transplant recipient Steve Ferkau will be representing Illinois as part of the 2009 Donate Life Rose Parade float! Regular readers and the transplant community at large know Steve from his active role in promoting organ & tissue donation and blogging over at Revive Hope or contributing on the TransplantBuddies forum.
This year marks Donate Life’s sixth float entry and will be designed under the theme of “Stars of Life.” Riders for this year’s float were selected based on a 500 word essay talking about their personal tie to organ & tissue donation and transplantation. Hope over to Steve’s post or check out his entry about his donor, Kari, below.
I have cystic fibrosis. All of my life I’d never really understood what it felt like to breathe “normally”. Most of my life I really didn’t understand that I was struggling. I just didn’t know any differently – that was just life to me.
I met my princess, Laura, in my mid twenties. Before that, I had had trouble with the thought of developing a relationship with someone, then leaving them alone. As I fell in love with Laura, I guess I decided that I deserved to be in love. I’m glad I did; Laura has made all of my struggles worthwhile.
I got desperately ill in 1997 – my doctor let me know it was time to consider transplant. I waited almost three years for the incredible gift I received in April 2000. My recovery was amazing and I now have a taste of life I’d never, ever understood.
I had four “false alarms” while I waited. Four times, four families, going through four devastating moments in their lives reached out and tried to save my life. On April 8, 2000, the phone rang a fifth time. A family in Iowa was experiencing the most devastating moment in their lives. But, in the month before, their precious daughter told them how strongly she felt about organ donation.
That Iowa family remained unknown to me for almost two years until I received a letter. Their daughter’s name was Kari and she was 17 when she passed. I eventually met Lisa and Larry, her mom and dad, along with her sister and brother-in-law, her grandma, and the beautiful lady who has Kari’s heart, Sandy. They are a truly beautiful family.
I never focused on my illness… I didn’t wear it like a badge… But THIS, my new lungs, I wear like a badge – I want everyone to see the gift I’ve been given and to know the girl who gave it to me…
Anyone who knows me has probably watched me pull out my wallet and show a perfect stranger a beautiful face – Kari’s – and tell them about her… They may have asked about the green ribbon on my collar, or about my IOWA shirt, and they got a story they weren’t expecting… it means so much to me to be able to tell people about Kari, and about the gift she and her family have given me – and what organ donation does for people.
One of Kari’s precious friends, Jenn, emailed me four years to the day after Kari’s death to tell me she had been running with Kari days before she died and wanted to run with Kari again. We then climbed the stairs at the John Hancock Tower together in the Hustle up the Hancock.
Jenn once told me that Lisa worries that Kari’s friends will forget about her. That won’t happen on my watch – not while I’m breathing…